By Todd Golden
TERRE HAUTE — The column I wrote last Monday about the open Indiana State baseball position took a black-and-white stance on an issue that I knew wasn’t a black-and-white issue to those who care about it.
I wrote that ISU Director of Athletics Ron Prettyman should hire the best man for the job. Period. Regardless of connection to the university or lack thereof.
Not everyone sees it quite that simply and I got plenty of feedback. Among other things, some expressed the opinion that Lindsay Meggs only took the ISU job as a stepping stone to a bigger job and ISU needs to avoid that circumstance in its next hire.
I spoke with Meggs on Saturday as he gathered his personal effects from his ISU office five days after he was hired at the University of Washington. He denied that he ever perceived ISU as a stepping stone to bigger and better things.
“I never looked at this as a stepping stone job. I told people that I never would’ve moved my family all the way out here with the plan of just picking up and going. If that was my intent, I wouldn’t have come here,” Meggs said.
Meggs’ denial aside, it brings up an interesting point … does it really matter whether an ISU coaching position (in any sport) is considered a stepping stone? Moreover, why worry about a perception that ISU has no control over?
The reality is this. As long as there are schools that can pay more, that have better facilities, that are better steeped in tradition, and that have easier access to the NCAA Tournament via at-large bids given to their conference, ISU is a stepping stone school whether anyone likes it or not.
And if a coach uses ISU as a stepping stone and succeeds, that means the Sycamores succeeded along with them. Most of the time, it’s a win-win situation.
There is nothing wrong with a coach who wants to succeed here and only here, as many have correctly pointed out, that would be the best-case scenario.
“It’s a double-edged sword. If you can find the right person and he has some success, he might be gone in a short period of time, that’s the life of a mid-major. At the same time, if that person has roots and wants to be here for a long time, then you can have the best of both worlds,” Meggs said.
Generally, though, that’s the exception to the rule at a mid-major school like ISU. It’s a circumstance ISU hopes it can achieve, but until it does, it can’t ignore reality and rule out hiring someone who wants to succeed here and move on.
n Coach search — As for the hunt for Meggs’ replacement, ISU Director of Athletics Ron Prettyman was inundated with candidates despite the fact that most collegiate baseball programs have finalized or are trying to finalize their coaching staffs for fall practice.
“We’ve had nearly 50 applicants for the job and its only been posted since Wednesday, so we’re anticipating even more,” said Prettyman on Saturday.
The two names that have cropped up most often are former Northern Iowa coach Rick Heller (UNI dropped baseball after the recently concluded season) and Lincoln Trail coach and ex-ISU standout Mitch Hannahs, who was a finalist for the job in 2006.
Prettyman confirmed that both have applied for the job. Current ISU assistant Tyler Herbst has also applied.
“I’m in the process of reviewing [the applications] and probably over the course of this week will be getting my short list down to three or five. Hopefully we’ll be able to put two or four in front of a committee and make an offer the following week [starting Aug. 10],” Prettyman said.
If it comes down to Heller and Hannahs, I don’t envy Prettyman. Both are very qualified for the job. In Hannahs’ case, nothing that made him attractive in 2006 has changed in 2009. He has support among ISU’s inner circle and has proven at Lincoln Trail that he can run a winning show.
Heller obviously knows the Missouri Valley Conference and did a great job in less-than-ideal circumstances at UNI. He succeeded in a region where spring weather is far worse than it is here, the recruiting base in thinner, in a Depression-era stadium that was more than 10 miles from the UNI campus in Waterloo, and with the sword of Damocles hanging over the program’s very existence for at least a half-decade before UNI pulled the plug on it in February.
UNI won one MVC tournament (2001) and had three MVC Players of the Year (Ryan Brunner, 2001; Adam Boeve, 2003; Brandon Douglas, 2008) during Heller’s 10 years in Cedar Falls.
Todd Golden is sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or firstname.lastname@example.org.